It had been a long offseason by the time Josh Norman showed up at the Washington Redskins’ minicamp this week. In the previous five months, he had delivered water to residents of Flint, Mich., brought thousands of dollars of food and supplies to migrant families being united in Texas, watched his brother play for the Washington Valor of the Arena Football League and even flew with the Blue Angels.
By then he had heard plenty about the team’s new quarterback of the future, Dwayne Haskins, and he thought it was time to challenge the Redskins’ top draft pick. So on Thursday, not long before the final minicamp practice ended, he asked to be placed on the field on a goal-line drill when Haskins was quarterbacking.
The result was a pass play on which Norman jumped in front of a receiver to attempt an interception. And while he might have slipped out of bounds, a message was delivered.
“He didn’t say nothing to me, but a couple plays later, as we went back to the next team, he was like, ‘Yeah you got me, [but] that’s okay because I’m going to come back with you next time,’ ” Norman later said.
Norman seemed to like this. He always has looked around for a fight on the field. Haskins’s offering of one made him happy.
“He has no fear,” Norman said.
Norman is in a strange spot with the Redskins. He is beginning his fourth year with the team after signing a five-year, $75 million deal after his release from the Carolina Panthers in 2016. He remains the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL even as Coach Jay Gruden said this spring that Norman has not played like the top corner in the league.
Some, including former Redskins cornerback Fred Smoot, have suggested the team cut Norman to save money. The Redskins have shown no interest in releasing Norman, however, and Norman indirectly bristled at the criticism as he talked about his offseason charity work.
“Even if [publicity about his work at the border or in Flint] gets put out there, it gets put to the side because something negative got to come out,” Norman said.
Generally, though, he seemed happy. He said he missed the team’s optional organized team activities because he was busy with nonprofit work. He added that he “did not miss a beat” upon his return during this week’s mandatory minicamp. He talked a lot about his time in Flint, where he helped to deliver bottles of clean water, and in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley, where he and New Orleans Saints linebacker Demario Davis brought water and blankets to families who have come to the United States recently.
“A lot of people see me, what they say is, ‘He’s a controversial guy,’ ” Norman said. “'[When] he’s on the field, he’s playing football, he’s always in it with someone.' But you really don’t know. You really don’t. And the thing is: Once you see all the stuff that I do and I post it and I put it up and I go and see others [doing the same]. That’s who I really am. I can’t hide or try to run from that.”
The tone of the Redskins’ offseason practices changed when Norman showed up this week. They became a little more intense, and Gruden playfully fired shots at him during the workouts. Last year, the two had difficulties, namely an incident during which Gruden benched him for the first series of the second half of a loss at New Orleans after Norman had been wearing headphones during Gruden’s halftime talk in the locker room.
Gruden slightly downplayed those disagreements Thursday, saying he was “great” with Norman, but also couldn’t resist a few shots.
“We’re going to have some issues from time to time where we don’t see eye-to-eye, but he’s got to understand I’m the head coach and what I say goes,” Gruden said. “Not everybody believes that all the time, but that’s how it goes — especially him. No, I like Josh. I wish he had been here in OTAs, but those are voluntary. But he’s been here, and he’s had two picks in two days. We need Josh.”
Norman probably won’t be at the team’s final OTA practices next week. He has been helping to build what he says will be a teen center in his hometown of Greenwood, S.C. He also hopes to go to Afghanistan in July. But he seemed excited to be back at practices and raved about the team’s new defensive backs coach, Ray Horton. And for a few days, the Redskins were a little more intense.
More Redskins coverage: